The First Iron Dog

by Billy Norman

In the fall of 1983 Tom Rutter and I decided to go on the first Irondog. During a practice run near Willow, Alaska, Tom rolled the Manta and broke his shoulder. The Manta was a double track snowmobile that you sit down into like a race car with a roll bar. They had Polaris fan-cooled 440 motors. They were a blast to drive. Wayne Westberg owned the Manta dealership in Anchorage and donated the machines. His mechanic Rick was Toms replacement.

There was not enough snow so we hired a C130 to haul the sleds to McGrath and start from there. I was hyper and never slept one bit that first night. I slept next to John Faeo and listened to him snore all night. We back tracked to Nikolai, then back to McGrath to make the race longer, then on to Charlie Company checkpoint; the Army set this up for us on a lake in the middle of nowhere. Wow this was fantastic, they had a heated tent, hot soup and gas for us. They then followed us to Nome to pick up any stragglers and pick up any litter. Army was riding Double track Skidoo Alpines.

We got about half way between Ruby and Galena on the Yukon river and blew a piston, we pulled it back to Ruby and fixed it and started again and blew it again in about 5 miles. That was the end for us. We slept in the jail that night no charge. The town officer fed us one pancake the next morning on woodstove, took 45 minutes to cook one and it was raw in the middle, yuk.

I ran the race 5 times in a row, finished 3 times, placed 4th with Ellis Smith on Yamahas, placed 9th one year with Jim Knapp on Indys, we finished 4 days after 8th place, took us 9 days total, the longest ever recorded that I know of. Jim wouldn't quit, they had half the town out for our arrival. Tom and Birdie Rutter flew in from Anchorage to be there, round trip tickets cost them $1200, Shirlie Littleton race official and friend stayed after all the race officials went home to be there for us. Also both our wives, Lyndeen Knapp and Sandy Norman, were there, they had a Giant banner on main street in Nome that said "Welcome to Nome Billy and Jim." We received the red lantern trophy for last place. I now sell snowmobile, ATV and boat parts and Army Bunny Boots to native Alaskan villages and now world wide on my website, I have over 600 repeat customers in 130 villages, we advertise in the Greatlander year around.